Startalk Shines at TNCS!

Our TNCS representatives at the Startalk conference---Admissions Director Robin Munro, Xie Laoshi, and Lin Laoshi--take a selfie!

Our TNCS representatives at the Startalk conference—Admissions Director Robin Munro, Xie Laoshi, and Lin Laoshi–take a selfie!

“I am a total fan of this program!” said The New Century School Admissions Director Robin Munro excitedly, upon returning from attendance at the Spring Startalk Conference Sessions in Austin, TX earlier this month.


Startalk Summer Camp

Xie Laoshi, who will act as Program Director and Lin Laoshi, who will be Lead Teacher, accompanied Ms. Munro (who will be providing administrative support) to Austin May 1–3 to learn all about implementing the Startalk program at TNCS as well as gathering resources on curriculum design, instructional materials, and assessment tools. That’s right, TNCS will be hosting a Startalk Summer Camp in Mandarin Chinese this July 21–August 8, 2014!
Program teachers will also include new teacher Liang Laoshi and returning former assistants “Evergreen” and “Charlotte.” The 100% Chinese immersion camp is offered in three divisions:
  • Novice 1st–2nd grade (Note: this division is currently waiting list only): Student has little to no exposure to Mandarin Chinese. May be able to recognize a few characters, say a couple of simple phrases, count 1–10, and/or recognize when someone is speaking Chinese.
  •  Intermediate 2nd–3rd grade: Student can recognize 25–100 characters and is comfortable carrying on a basic conversation in Mandarin Chinese. Prefer that student is also able to read Chinese in Pinyin form.
  • Novice 3rd–4th grade: Student has little to no exposure to Mandarin Chinese. May be able to recognize a few characters, say a couple of simple phrases, count 1–10, and/or recognize when someone is speaking Chinese.
The program includes field trips; cooking classes; dance performances and lessons; Chinese drumming; and, of course, language learning. All meals and snacks are included.
Spots are still open for this FREE summer camp for ages 5 and up! (Please complete this survey to help us place your student. A brief interview with the Startalk Program Director is required; interviews may be conducted in person at TNCS or via Skype. Spots are filled by qualified students on a first-come, first-served basis.)

What is Startalk?

Firstly, it bears mention that TNCS is incredibly honored to be hosting this component of a nationwide initiative to learn foreign languages. Startalk’s mission is “to increase the number of Americans learning, speaking, and teaching critical need foreign languages by offering students (K–16) and teachers of these languages creative and engaging summer experiences that strive to exemplify best practices in language education . . .”
It’s a BIG DEAL. But it wasn’t just random luck that landed TNCS the gig. Xie Laoshi (a.k.a., “Jewel”) put together an extensive application packet that described TNCS’s vision for and current language instruction approach. To get a sense of how competitive the application process is, consider that TNCS is the only new elementary school to be awarded host status this year. Our Jewel’s application really must have sparkled!
Ms. Munro says that the aspect that struck her most about the program is how strongly they emphasize professional development for teachers. “The skill, enthusiasm, and professionalism of the teacher are critical to the program’s success,” she said. “Studies conducted over decades have shown that the professionalism of the teachers and their ongoing professional development has the biggest impact, even more so than the quality of the curriculum. It’s so much about the teacher.”
Startalk, a federally funded program through the National Foreign Language Center (housed at the University of Maryland, incidentally), was established in 2007 and was just renewed through 2020 to “teach strategically important world languages that are not now widely taught in the [United States].” These currently include Arabic, Chinese, Dari, Hindi, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, and Urdu and will also soon bring in the “language” of computer programming (to be developed right here in neighboring Towson!). One point of note is that Startalk encourages a move away from the perhaps ethnocentric term “foreign language” in favor of the more accurate “modern world language” or just “world language” to emphasize how we, as global citizens, really communicate now.

Let the World Be Filled with Love

At the Spring conference, our three TNCS representatives “divided and conquered” to be able to attend as many of the break-out sessions as possible. They nevertheless arrived at the consensus that there was no need to “reinvent the wheel” with TNCS’s camp theme but that they should adapt it to a proven successful format, supported by Startalk’s 7 years of existing data on how we actually learn language. Thus Jewel’s beautiful (and fund-winning) idea for summer camp, “Let the World Be Filled with Love” went through some late-night tweaking at the conference.
To narrow the theme and bring it into line with other camps, they centered on a very famous and traditional Chinese story called “Kong Rong Rang Li,” which is about a little boy who exemplifies familial love (not to mention Chinese culture in general) and also acts as a juxtaposition with American culture. In the West, we tend to strive to get the biggest and best for ourselves; in traditional Chinese culture, putting your family first is a prized trait. And so “Let the World Be Filled with Love” will actually be rooted in the idea of familial love, which will tie together many aspects of Chinese culture beautifully, and the students will be able to relate to Kong Rong as a peer. (See this tale below, courtesy of Eunice Kwan.)

Start Talking!

To reiterate, the camp—even at the novice level—is conducted completely, entirely in Chinese. No English is uttered. How is that possible with kids who are being exposed to Mandarin for the first time? “Through the use of lots of visuals,” says Ms. Munro. Pantomiming, pictorials, modeling—whatever it takes to communicate. The story of Kong Rong actually comes at the end of the camp, when students have built up some vocabulary and some comprehension and are ready to put it all together meaningfully.
Perhaps just as important, teachers absolutely do not focus on or correct grammar. Although this is quite a departure from the way many of us learned a new language, in which declension and conjugation were hammered into our skulls day in and day out, grammar is seen as just not all that important anymore if the point is conveyed. Communication is the crux of Startalk education, and that makes perfect sense. It’s why we set out to learn another language in the first place, after all. They just want people to start talking. (Get it? Startalking?) Thus, just as we model for our young children how to handle, for example, tense, program teachers will model for rather then correct their students. When our little ones tell us, “I goed to the playground,” we respond with something like, “How nice! You went to the playground!” rather than sitting them down for a grammar lesson.
As Startalk’s 7 years of gathering and analyzing data to improve language instruction have demonstrated, incorporating the “5 Cs” in each lesson is critical. The 5 Cs should ring a bell because that’s Jewel’s approach to teaching at TNCS. So, Community, Culture, Connection, Comparison, and Communication intersect in the Startalk curriculum to foster and enhance language learning as well as make it relevant and meaningful to the student. Make it authentic. Communication is itself broken down into three types: interpretive, interpersonal (i.e., kids talking to each other in the target language), and presentational. This also ensures that the experience is real for the kids. Jewel already uses this approach, too. She gives students a problem to solve to get them talking and exploring in the language, such as where is so-and-so student today? Why isn’t he/she in class today? Simple, real-world experience gives the kids a context and a reason to talk.
Language learning is paramount at TNCS, and, thanks to Jewel’s incredible intuition, insight, and innate instructional skill, the school’s language program is right in step with the most reliable language-learning metrics available. TNCS looks forward to sharing our passion for Mandarin Chinese and Chinese culture with your child during Startalk Summer Camp!

Kong Rong Rang Li


For more information, please contact
Spots are still open for this FREE summer camp for ages 5 and up! (Please complete this survey to help us place your student. A brief interview with the Startalk Program Director is required; interviews may be conducted in person at TNCS or via Skype. Spots are filled by qualified students on a first-come, first-served basis.)
For anyone interested in seeing any of the Startalk conference presentations, please click here.

Best of Immersed: Reader Poll

Dear Readers, we have achieved quite a milestone. With 85 (that’s right—eighty-five) posts under its belt, Immersed has now pretty well established its presence, and we’d be nowhere without our loyal readership. That’s why we decided that #86 was a chance to give something back.

In an ongoing effort to provide the kind of news you care about, we are asking you to vote for your favorite post of 2014. Knowing the kind of content that appeals to you most will help us focus on those topics in upcoming posts and give your more of what you want to read. Because there’s plenty more to come, folks :)!

Please also feel free to comment on your preferences—why you like what you like, and why you don’t like something else!


Music Is in the Air at TNCS!


TNCS Music Director and Lead Montessori Teacher in one of the primary classrooms, Martellies Warren.

TNCS Music Director and Lead Montessori Teacher in one of the primary classrooms, Martellies Warren.

With the Spring Concert upon us, this seemed like the ideal time to profile The New Century School‘s talented and passionate music teacher Martellies Warren. Many of you know Mr. Warren as one of TNCS’s lead Montessori teachers in the primary classroom, and certainly all TNCS parents know him as the maestro behind those afterschool snatches of chorus, those sudden breaks into full-voiced song, and even those vibratto notes (held surprisingly long!) from the kids. But did you also know that Mr. Warren is a professional touring vocalist with gospel group Anthony Brown and Group Therapy?

This musician brings the chops! A native of Montgomery, AL, as a child Mr. Warren was always humming and singing jingles from commercials. “My mom noticed that I seemed to be musically inclined and so she bought me a little keyboard.” He immediately demonstrated an ability to pick out tunes on the keyboard, so the next step was piano lessons, beginning around age 10. By high school, he started formal singing lessons and won first place at his very first vocal competition. The late Dr. Nathan Carter who was Music Director and Chairman of the Music Board at Morgan State University here in Baltimore got wind of this rising star and traveled to Montgomery to recruit him for the music program. On a full vocal scholarship, Mr. Warren arrived in Baltimore in 1998 and began performing across the United States and in Europe with the Morgan State University Choir. He also began performing in musicals such as Porgy and Bess with the now-defunct Baltimore Opera Company and others.

After graduating with a classical music degree in voice as well as a degree in education, he decided to make Baltimore his home. “My love for music really blossomed at college, where it started with classical music.” he said. “Now I do classical, gospel, and jazz, and I use my classical training to sing those different types of styles.” In addition to playing the piano, he also picked up trombone along the way, his other main instrument. “I also used to be a band teacher, so I can feel my way around most instruments,” he said. When asked why he took a detour from his music studies into education, he explained, “Being an artist, you never know if you’re going to get a gig. It’s kind of a glass ceiling—I could see more, but I couldn’t get there. I wanted to make sure I had financial stability even while touring or making an album, so I got that education degree under my belt. It started as something to fall back on, but then I fell in love with teaching. So now I teach and sing!”

As it turns out, his dual loves mesh perfectly at TNCS, where he both teaches and teaches music, but the path to TNCS wasn’t perfectly smooth. He started teaching in Baltimore City schools and almost wearied of education altogether. He despaired at what was happening to The Arts in public schools. “Going to work everyday and trying to do the best you can to give the kids a quality [music] education,” he says, “and realizing that your hands are tied and there’s only so much you can do because of the lack of resources and materials and the lack of support for The Arts is heartbreaking. I almost walked away from teaching.”

After a brief hiatus lasting a few months, he answered an ad to substitute teach at the very traditional Julia Brown Montessori School (credited with bringing Montessori teaching to Maryland). There, he ended up getting certified in the Montessori method, teaching for 7 years, and also serving as administrator before realizing that his heart is in the classroom with the kids. In 2012, he arrived at TNCS. He likes TNCS’s somewhat less traditional Montessori approach that allows him the room to bring in the music. In his own primary classroom, he incorporates a lot of it, whether singing songs together as a class or with classical music playing in the background, which he says helps keep the atmosphere calm and the kids focused. He appreciates that music is not “last on the totem pole, first to go” at TNCS. Instead, it’s considered essential, as all of “the specials” are fundamental to the TNCS approach to educating the “whole child.” “I’m passionate about being a music educator,” he says. “To have someone devalue that or not see it as essential is heartbreaking. Allowing children to have art and music alongside the academics brings back the sparkle in their eyes. It makes them happy.”

A primary class having a music lesson with Mr. Warren seated at the piano (not visible from this angle).

Primary students practice recognizing the notes of the music scale and demonstrating them with hand gestures.

Primary students practice recognizing the notes of the music scale and demonstrating them with hand gestures.

“The wonderful thing about coming to The New Century School is that I wasn’t held to a curriculum. They said, ‘We trust you. We trust your expertise. Let us know what you would like to bring to the school.’ So that’s what I did. I brought my love for performances, my love for the skillset—the educational portion. I try to give the kids a really good mix of everything.”

No performance-goer could deny that the bi-annual concerts at TNCS have scaled new heights under his tutelage. The Spring Concert underway currently was inspired by his love for the performing arts. “I have always had an affinity for the theater,” he said. In addition to playing the lead in Porgy and Bess, he has performed in The Wiz, Into the Woods, and others. “I decided to start the year by teaching about composers—Bach, Mozart—listening to music, and breaking down that aspect. So the first half of the school year was very structured. The children were interested, but they couldn’t wait to get back into the performance aspect! We saved the second half to let loose, have a little fun, and explore some different things.”

“I thought, why not try Broadway?” he said. “I want to do something different each year, to continue to evolve. The kids have really taken to showtunes, so even though Broadway is a huge undertaking, I think the children are doing a wonderful job.” They first delved into the history of Broadway and that particular area of New York City as well as the concept of what it would take for a school-aged child to perform on Broadway. “They were shocked to learn that children perform on Broadway. The number one question I got was, ‘How do they go to school?'” he said. “Everything you have to do, including homework, they have to do, too, plus rehearse and perform in daily shows.” This gave him the ideal opportunity to discuss the discipline required to pursue a career in the arts. Drawing on his own childhood, he explained that kids who want to be performers might have to trade playtime for practice and rehearsal. “They were really blown away by that.”

Making this connection to their own lives has only deepened their enthusiasm for putting on this show. The assortment of songs comes from several Broadway shows, including Mary Poppins; The Wiz; The Wizard of Oz; Annie, Get Your Gun; and Matilda. “Matilda is the standout this year; the kids really love that one so we’re doing three songs from that.” He has even included a top-hat number from On Broadway in the line-up. “I revised the lyrics to make it more kid-friendly,” he said, laughing.

What performers inspire him personally? “Classically, I’ve always been a huge fan of Luciano Pavarotti,” he says. Other favorites include the great jazz trumpeter Winton Marsalis, the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald, and the inimitable Frank Sinatra. His own voice is classified as tenor. Once a lyric tenor, he says all of his years teaching have deepened his voice and he now considers himself more of a “dramatic” tenor. As for his own music, although he compares the timbre of his voice to Pavarotti’s, his preferred genre is gospel, where he is something of a superstar.

In addition to performing with some of gospel’s biggest names, such as Dove Award–winning Maurette Brown-Clark, mega-producer Donald Lawrence, Tonex, the incomparable Lecresia Campbell, and many more, he is also a founding member of the Pi Eta chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia national music fraternity. And then there are his awards. Anthony Brown and Group Therapy took away three Stellar Awards this year, which Mr. Warren describes as “gospel’s equivalent to the Grammys.” They won Best Video of the Year (for “Testimony,” which you can view here), Best Male Contemporary Singer of the Year, and Best Group of the Year. Stellar indeed! Anthony Brown and Group Therapy also had the distinction of being the opening act on Season 7 of BET’s “Sunday Best,” which will air July 13th.

Television appearances, music videos, concerts, award ceremonies . . . how does he manage to do all that and still accomplish all that he does at TNCS? “It’s a juggling act,” he laughs, “to make sure my music career doesn’t conflict with my teaching. But my children get as much of me as possible.” He is also quick to point out that he keeps the two careers separate in other ways. “I try to be mindful of everyone’s religious beliefs. My music is Christian-based, but I like to share what I’m doing with TNCS parents just to keep them in the loop. I always try to make it clear that this is not a part of TNCS, this is me. We have so many different ethnicities and religions and beliefs at the school, and we come together and we make a huge melting pot community. That’s the awesome part of The New Century School.”

Certainly, the multicultural atmosphere TNCS strives for is something parents value tremendously. But TNCS’s incredible, amazing, loving, talented, dedicated staff might also be what makes the school so “awesome.” Thank you for all you do, Mr. Warren!


Community Conversation: Protecting Our Children

A couple of months ago, a Baltimore mom posted a question on the Southeast Baltimore City Kids listserv and wound up galvanizing a community. Her question was directed at other parents and, though simple, was very important. “I am wondering if there are any local programs/seminars put on by experts for parents on the topic of teaching your kids about strangers, sex offenders, online safety, etc.?” asked Mila Lowery. “Is this a topic that is addressed in school? Or maybe the police department has something? It is scary to think about but necessary.” Although this topic does not involve The New Century School specifically, it is a universal parenting concern and therefore well worth exploring here. This is not a fun post, but certainly a timely one. With the hundreds of teenage girls abducted and still missing in Nigeria last month and this month’s upcoming National Missing Children’s Day (May 25th), this issue is uppermost in the minds of many.

Several moms responded to that initial query posed back in March with anecdotes, books, websites, and advice (see below for a list of some of those resources). One mom, in particular, took up the thread and offered specifics for taking on so-called “stranger danger” (see below for her list of rules). As it turns out, she works with law enforcement locally and throughout the country on abductions, sexual abuse, internet safety, and child sexual exploitation with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Mom and child advocate Cindy Pappas next approached the administration at DuBurns Arena to ask them to host a parent safety night and and allow her to do a presentation for the community. That 2-hour event took place on Wednesday, May 7th and was informative, full of practical tips, and eye-opening to say the least.

Presentation: Protecting Our Children

Ms. Pappas introduced the event and detailed the rules she had previously shared on the listserv. She explained that the goal of her presentation was to help us parents learn how to decrease our kids’ vulnerability. The presentation quickly took a turn that shocked many in the audience. “While it is important to talk about ‘stranger danger,’ ” said Ms. Pappas,  “it is just as important to talk about people your children know and trust.” Most abduction and abuse happens at the hands of people your children know very well, not strangers. While we digested this (unexpected for some) information, Ms. Pappas provided the following abduction statistics:

  • 13,000 missing children in Maryland annually; 1,000 of whom remain unrecovered
  • 69% female
  • 41% age 10–14 years
  • 35% walking to/from school or riding a bike
  • 96% male suspects; 48% white
  • 72% involve a vehicle

Butcher’s Hill mom of three Susan Albrecht said she was attending the event, “to learn how to talk to [her] children about this sensitive matter without scaring them.” According to Ms. Pappas, “the singlemost effective means of protecting your child is communication. If they know they can talk about their true feelings, they will be more likely to reveal that they have been in an uncomfortable situation.” Currently, only about 10% of children who are sexually abused report it. NCMEC provides Discussion Guides broken down by age group; download them here.

A representative from the Baltimore Child Abuse Center spoke next. In addition to providing lots of great handouts such as a Family Safety plan (download here), she drove home the message that 90% of abusers are known to the child—doctor, clergy, neighbor, family, etc. She also updated the good touch/bad touch metric to safe touch versus unsafe touch. Finally, she shared the sickening fact that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday.

The third speaker was a detective from the Baltimore City Police Department who had two main points (and many colorful anecdotes!) to share: First, most abusers are in positions of authority. This is what makes empowering your child to communicate so important, whether to say no to the would-be perpetrator or to feel comfortable enough to tell you when someone has approached his or her inappropriately. Second, if something happens, stay calm and call 911. Don’t try to play detective yourself; don’t increase the child’s distress. Trust the process.

The final speaker of the night was Assistant State’s Attorney Kelly Burrell who urged us to report any suspicious actions we might witness, even if we aren’t sure. “Don’t put your head in the sand,” she said. “If it’s happening or you think it might be happening, tell someone!”

Thank you to all of the speakers for giving their time to the 40 or so audience members who were so keen to get this education. It may not be pleasant to talk about these issues with your kids, but taking some precautionary steps now just might help them stay kids longer. Ms. Lowery (the mom who started the listserv discussion) summed up the event by saying, “I was very grateful to Cindy and the other experts who took time out of their schedules to hold this event for the community. I came away with some great tips and handouts on how to broach the safety topic with young kids. We also gained a better understanding of how the system works from the point of view of the police and the agencies involved in helping to keep children safe and prosecuting offenders.”

“Stranger Danger” Rules

Make sure your children understand . . .

  • That you will never send a stranger to pick them up from somewhere. Establish a “code word” that anyone picking them up unexpectedly would know. Moms on the listserv shared theirs—“meatball,” “pierogi,” etc. Make it something pertinent to your family but that a clever stranger wouldn’t be able to guess.
  • A grownup should never ask a child for help with directions or finding a lost pet. Run away if approached.
  • That if separated in a store or park, to stay where they are; you will find them. Tell them to seek help from another nearby mom.
  • To always ask you before going anywhere and to give you all the details about where they’re going, who is going with them, and when they’ll be back. (For older children.)
  • That it is okay in any situation in which they feel uncomfortable to walk or run away and, if grabbed, to yell, kick, scream, and do whatever it takes to draw attention. Teach them to yell, “This is not my [parent]!” to alert passersby.
  • That they have the right to say no to any touch or actions by others that makes them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused. Reassure them that they can tell you anything.
  • The anatomically correct terms for their body parts. Educated = less vulnerable.

For parents to be especially mindful of . . . 

  • Look and listen to small cues and clues that something may be troubling your children. Some children may not be able to tell you when something happens, because they have been threatened that bad things will happen if they do.
  • Pay attention if they tell you they don’t want to be with someone or go somewhere.
  • Notice when someone shows one or all of your children a great deal of attention or begins giving them gifts.
  • Children may be especially fearful of being punished, being embarrassed, or experiencing the loss of the love and respect of their family members and friends. If your children do confide in you, remain calm, noncritical, and nonjudgmental.
  • Be sure to screen babysitters and caregivers.
  • Establish rules and guidelines for computer use for your children.

List of Mom-Vetted Resources

Baseball Fundraiser Scores Big for TNCS

TNCS students pose with the Oriole Bird. Hey, why doesn't the O's mascot have a name, anyway?

TNCS students pose with the Oriole Bird. Hey, why doesn’t the O’s mascot have a name, anyway?

On April 27th, families came out in force to represent The New Century School at Camden Yards as the Baltimore Orioles played their third in a three-game series against the Kansas City Royals. The event was organized by TNCS primary mom Tracy Browning as part of The OriolesREACH High Five Fundraising Program. High Five was designed to benefit local schools and other eligible nonprofit organizations; by attending a game at the “Ballpark That Forever Changed Baseball,” TNCS earned $5 for every ticket sold. According to their website, the Orioles have donated more than $1.4 million through this program since 2005. “We have participated in the Orioles high five fundraising program through [Johns] Hopkins,” said Ms. Browning. “They do this yearly to raise funds for transplant patients and families.” In their experience with the program, Ms. Browning and her husband Dr. Niraj Desai appreciated the way it was not only a fun way to fundraise but also generated a true community feeling. “We thought it would be an exciting event for the school and a great way to raise money without having to buy wrapping paper, cookie dough, or something else you don’t really need!” She “pitched” the idea to TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali, and off they went!

"Best playground ever" evidently involves zero wood chips!

“Best playground ever” evidently involves zero wood chips!

Said Ms. Danyali, “I loved the idea of hosting a community event that brought TNCS together with baseball in a way that benefits the school.” She also had a very particular area in need of benefit in mind: TNCS playground renovations. As chairperson of the official TNCS Playground Committee, Ms. Danyali says, “The playground committee came to be from various conversations  among parents, staff, and me regarding accommodating growing bodies and more choice in play/fitness moving forward. I put out an email request to all stakeholders interested in getting involved. Based on responses, a first meeting was set, with 8–10 parents/administration/executive directors in attendance.” That first meeting’s action plan was to research new and improved ground cover. Ms. Danyali says they are looking for something “more sustainable and long-lasting for the wear and tear of the environment and student usage. The pebbles and mulch take a beating with the weather and constant movement. I am requesting samples from many surface providers to weigh options, plus there is interest in a track for running to be installed.” Additionally, an elementary Spring Break assignment was to Create Your Dream Playground, which students executed with enthusiasm! Although an ice cream shop probably will not ultimately occupy the center of the new playground, the kids’ natural creativity, unhampered innovation, and end-user insight resulted in some truly inspired suggestions for the upcoming overhaul. With $675 raised from the day out at Oriole Park (that’s 135 tickets sold!), Step 1 is underway. Ms. Danyali encourages families to get involved with this fun way to help out the school: “The next playground committee meeting is scheduled for May 12 at 8:00 am, for anyone interested in joining the group!”

“We are working on next year’s game and want this to be a yearly community event,” says Ms. Browning. “I really hope everyone had a great time!” It’s probably safe to say that the event scored a grand slam (even if the Orioles fared less successfully)!